— Things We Can't Ignore

Meet two young breast cancer survivors who just revolutionized the runway

Remember that amazing ad campaign for Play Out underwear featuring topless models who’d undergone double-mastectomies? It was an incredible moment, not least because it challenged both gender norms and body expectations at the same time. The campaign went viral, and last weekend, two of those awesome models, Emily Jensen and Melanie Testa, walked the runway in a fashion show for Play Out as part of NYC Pride.

The show was a part of Rainbow Fashion Week, which celebrates LGBTQ style, and it was a big deal: both Melanie and Emily walked the runway wearing just Play Out’s gender neutral underwear, making a huge statement about embracing body diversity and the beauty in every person. Both Melanie and Emily are tough-as-nails young breast cancer survivors who are starting an important conversation about both gender presentation and breast cancer. (Melanie also marched topless in last weekend’s Pride parade in New York City.)

Melanie, a textile designer, author, and artist, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2011. She needed a mastectomy on one breast and began researching her options for reconstruction. “I tried to imagine my body with the best possible reconstructed results. Then I tried to imagine the stress of disliking the results I was able to obtain,” she told HelloGiggles.

Melanie wasn’t wild about the idea of silicone implants or the possible nerve damage and scarring of moving fat and muscle from another part of her body. “The integrity of my body is important to me. Being diagnosed with cancer is bad enough,” she said. When she came across a woman on Flickr who had opted to go bilaterally flat, with no nipples or reconstructive surgery, Melanie saw another option and went for it.

Melanie and Emily backstage. Photo credit: Jamie Courville

She had to learn to accept her body the way it was, but staying true to herself helped with this new reality. “My sexual identity as a bisexual person helped enable me to make the decision to go flat and eschew reconstruction after a pretty upsetting diagnosis.”

Emily is the founder of Flattopper Pride, an organization that supports LGBTQ breast cancer survivors. She just finished her degree at the University of Washington where she focused on body politics, queer theory, and affect theory. After her breast cancer diagnosis, the decision not to have reconstructive surgery was simple.

“I wanted to have the least medical intervention and surgery possible,” Emily said. “Other than that, not having breasts is more in keeping with my gender. At the time I said, ‘My breasts are fantastic; I want them or none.’ Now I really love not having breasts. I can be more fluid in my gender presentation without them.”

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